Our senior choir is excited to perform in Orff’s Carmina Burana alongside the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and many talented soloists from June 21 to 24th. This performance will be particularly special to the Toronto Children’s Chorus as we sing with TCC alumnus, Phillip Addis, baritone.
Addis kindly answered all of our questions; from what his time was like as a TCC chorister to his incredible journey from choir member in Carmina Burana (early 1990s) to soloist (2017). Read on to find out more about one of this production’s featured performers.
1. Could you tell us about your experience as a chorister singing in the Toronto Children’s Chorus?
My time with the TCC was a major eye-opener to new possibilities in music and in life. Having just moved to Toronto, the choir offered me a new circle of friends with a unified purpose, different from the lottery of schoolmates (in which I was also very fortunate.) Through Mrs. Bartle’s leadership I quickly discovered that we would all be held to a very high standard, and I enjoyed rising to the challenge. As a group we bonded and trusted one another, as you must to sing in harmony; even more so in controlled dissonance. My horizons were broadened both literally and figuratively, as my first flight was with the choir, to Phoenix, and I sang in great spaces from Roy Thomson Hall to Rideau Hall, all while becoming aware of music and a community of a complexity and beauty that I had never imagined before.
2. Could you please tell us about one highlight in your career that stands out to you?
I’ve been very fortunate to have a slow-and-steady sequence of positive experiences unfold in my work. If I had to choose one threshold, it would be my first Pelléas at the Opéra Comique, in Paris. To be chosen to interpret this singular work in the theatre where it was premiered was a great honour and, happily, a very satisfying success that has made it a niche role of mine. The ambiance and intimacy of that old hall and the amazing musicianship on stage and in the pit, with the guiding hand of Sir John Eliot Gardiner, was all very moving and uplifting.
My parents sang a lot in our home when I was growing up, as did my sisters. I didn’t always appreciate it, but it was certainly a strong part of the fabric of our family. My first experience of choral singing was with the Halifax Boys’ Choir, and that was about the time I started to work on rudiments and reading (still working on it, by the way.) My time with the TCC was relatively short at 2.5 years, but the intensity of the learning and the exposure to new musical ideas laid the foundation for the path that I would find, eventually, in my 20’s. With the exception of a chamber choir in high school, at Humberside, the music of my teens was mostly instrumental, playing bass guitar and tuba in school bands and orchestras. I also devoted myself to sailing tall ships during those years, with Toronto Brigantine, while singing was on the back burner. In fact, when I went to start my Bachelor of Music at Queen’s I did so on tuba, not even considering voice as an option. TCC alumna, Jenn Kirner roped me into joining her chamber choir there, and after a while it was suggested that I had some potential as a soloist. So I took a lesson with Bruce Kelly, and he helped me realise that I could do more and express more with the voice than I was realistically going to achieve instrumentally. From then on it was full immersion, trying to catch up in a field I had neglected for a while, and focussing on really saying something personal and meaningful as an artist.
4. Based on your incredible success and experience as a singer, what advice can you offer our current choristers?
On your own, you should each get to know your instrument through experimentation; find where it resonates, play with breath-control, just mess around and make the worst possible sounds and the purest ones. This will help you learn what the real limits are and what the full range of possibilities can be. From that, find a sound that is sustainable, that rings without straining, and learn to find that place consistently because, as I’m sure you know, it’s miserable to sing with vocal fatigue. Then, all together, truly listen to one another and find a way to blend that healthy sound; to meet one another in tuning and in texture.
Also, and perhaps more importantly, learn everything you can about the text that you are singing; word-for-word translation, paraphrasing, symbolism, phonetic spelling, author’s bio and context…these are all searchable nowadays, so use every tool you can to connect with the words. They inspired the composer to write the piece in the first place; it’s the least you can do. We can all feel the difference when performers know the words completely, not just by heart, but from the heart, with specific meaning in every phrase. Pretty voices are not that uncommon, but compelling performers are, sadly, a rarity.
5. What excites you most about performing Orff’s Carmina Burana with the TSO?
Well, for one, the last time I sang the piece I was up in the Roy Thomson Hall choir loft in 1990(?) with Elmer Iseler conducting. I had never experienced anything on that scale before and I found it dizzyingly surreal that so many people could come together creatively. So, it’s quite a flashback to that feeling of flying up there on a mountain of sound. Also, as the baritone of the piece now, it’s fun to explore the extreme parts of the voice. This score is freakish in its scope and range. To have my first crack at it with this astoundingly great orchestra inspires me to go all-in.